High expectations are seemingly inescapable for Lily Bednarek.
The Batavia senior not only has the unenviable task of replacing four-year standout Katrina Schlenker but also retaining her identity as the leader of the Bulldogs’ girls cross country team.
Batavia will launch its quest for a ninth consecutive Class 3A team state appearance at the Hinsdale Central regional in six days.
But the Bulldogs ended their regular season Saturday in Roselle by beating out fellow DuKane Conference state stalwart Wheaton Warrenville South 51-76 for league supremacy.
Bednarek, who narrowly missed all-state status last fall, piloted the Bulldogs to a successful defense of their conference title by placing fourth on the 3-mile layout on the East Campus of Lake Park in 18 minutes, 23.5 seconds.
“My biggest goal right now is (establishing a new personal-record time),” Bednarek said. “I want to make sure that is preserved for me. I feel like I have accomplished a lot in what I want to do. Placing (at state, which requires a top-25 result) would be great.”
Newcomers invariably tilt the balance of power in girls cross country; Batavia freshman Maddie Cassidy was sixth to complement Bednarek.
“Going into (the season), I didn’t know what to expect,” Cassidy said. “I am really happy with the outcome. It’s a great environment to be in.”
Batavia further subdued WW South behind Brooke Silbernagel, Sasha Semansion and Olivia Gebhardt, who placed in slots numbered 12, 16 and 18 to cement the Bulldogs’ team score.
“It was good for them to see what time of the year it is — championship season,” Batavia coach Chad Hillman said of his victorious contingent. “We haven’t taken a big step in about a month. We have been a little flat — not bad — but a little flat.”
St. Charles East junior Marley Andelman could not wait to be unleashed this fall after an all-state track campaign last spring.
Andelman had a different mindset entering the race than some of her rivals.
“I was happy with the first race of the state series,” said Andelman, who paced the fourth-place Saints (96 points) by finishing fifth (18:28.1). “I wanted to see improvement from my last race here (the Lancers’ home invite). I am excited to see what I can do over the next three weeks.”
St. Charles North sophomore Norah Dorrance had the finest showing among the four Tri-Cities high schools with her third-place effort in 18:06.6.
“I wanted to be top five so I could be all-conference,” Dorrance said. “I moved my (best) time from the season, which was really cool.”
Freshman Sofia Borter was seventh to lead fifth-place Geneva (124).
Grace Schager has simply been a one-man wrecking crew this fall.
The reigning 3,200-meter track state champion, the Glenbard North senior is evoking memories of such recent DuPage County immortals as four-time state champion Katelynne Hart of Glenbard West and Naperville North state-record-holder Judy Pendergast.
Schager was once again a solitary figure in extending her season-long unbeaten streak while also establishing a new conference benchmark in 16:19.9.
WW South runner-up Nicole Poglisch was nearly 90 seconds behind the inexorable Schager pace.
“She is in the conversation,” veteran WW South coach Rob Harvey said of Schager possibly joining the upper-echelon of state greats. “What a wonderful thing for our conference.”
“There’s still some amazing girls in the state, and I don’t want to take anything for granted,” Schager said of her undeniable status as the front-runner for a state championship. “Today my coaches and I wanted to concentrate on running the tangents. It wasn’t necessarily about time.”
Schager is a synthesis of brilliance and humility.
“I still feel like a little freshman out there,” Schager said.
Poglitsch was the only other athlete to break 18 minutes as the sophomore was timed in 17:47.4.
But the Tigers were unable to circumvent the Batavia team cushion as Frida Martinez was the only other WW South athlete to place in the top 20. Martinez was 13th.
“I like to surprise myself a lot,” Poglitsch said of her runner-up performance. “The team has been doing really well. (The Naperville North) Twilight (Invitational) was our breakout race. I was trying to get out there to push myself and see what I could do.”
“We got exactly what we wanted,” Harvey said. “We answered some questions.”
Madeline Romaine and Jade Benavides were eighth and ninth, respectively, for Wheaton North North and Lake Park.
The Wheaton Warrenville South triumvirate of Sam Cruz, Josiah Narayanan and Nathan Virginelli has designs on returning to the mountaintop.
Four years removed from winning the Class 3A boys cross country state championship, the Tigers’ trio made the DuKane Conference meet a memorable regular-season finale on Saturday morning at Lake Park in Roselle.
Cruz anchored five WW South runners in the top 10 with his third-place showing as the Tigers bested city rival Wheaton North 33-50 for the league title.
St. Charles East, which denied WW South a second consecutive state championship in 2019, was third with 85 points; Batavia, which featured the conference champion in senior Quintin Lowe, was fourth (95).
“I think we have a chance of walking the stage (for the team awards at the state finals in Peoria),” said Cruz, who navigated the Lancers’ East Campus course in 15 minutes, 29.6 seconds to place third. “Where we really want to be is to promote ourselves to have a big pack in the front. I feel like I could have had a little more pep at the end.”
Narayanan and Virginelli tamed the trying climatic conditions to augment the Cruz performance with back-to-back finishes at fifth and sixth; Aiden Noel and Colin Nelson did likewise for WW South at Nos. 9 and 10 to solidify the Tigers’ championship score.
Narayanan said the Tigers’ collective efforts were a continuation of their workout habits.
“We would like to work on packing a little bit more,” Narayanan said. “We have been practicing on packing. It seems to be working pretty well so far.”
Like Cruz, Virginelli provides the Tigers’ outfit with an indispensable degree of leadership as a senior veteran.
“(Today) shows that we are a pack team and are progressing this whole season,” Virginelli said. “We are making good moves.”
Eight of the top-10 athletes are products of the two Wheaton high schools.
Wheaton North had the runner-up in senior Caleb Youngstedt, who was exactly a second faster than Cruz in 15:28.6.
“I am really proud of my finish,” Youngstedt said. “I was struggling for the first half-mile. I was able to pass some guys in the end.”
The Falcons’ Aidan Murphy and Jude Hubbard were also easily within the automatic all-conference metric with their seventh- and eighth-place runs.
Lake Park (192) and Glenbard North (208) were sixth and seventh in the team standings.
In the aftermath of his first individual title since opening the season by vanquishing the Kane County field, Lowe admitted his consistency has been wanting.
But the Batavia senior is in line to redeem any regular-season missteps in preparation for the Hinsdale Central regional.
The lead pack was as bunched as a jar of pickles one mile into the race, but Lowe was comfortably in command when the athletes entered the track for their final sprint.
Lowe bettered Youngstedt by more than a half-minute to claim his first conference championship in 14:56.5.
“Coming into it, I was just looking for the win,” Lowe said. “I have had some adversity this season.”
Mitch Garcia has the guidance of a former state-champion teammate, Micah Wilson in 2021, to serve as his inspiration.
But Garcia is still searching for a commensurate degree of accomplishment to match his physical skills after placing fourth in 15:32.1.
“I am not at the place I want to be,” Garcia said. “This is not, unfortunately, how I wanted the race to pan out. I know I am capable — based on workouts and time trials — of trying to contend for all-state.”
Andrew Warcup assured himself of being named to the 20-man all-conference team by placing No. 11 for fifth-place Geneva (112). Wilhelm Lackner paced eighth-place St. Charles North with his 36th-place run.